Afghans in India seek refugee status after Taliban blitz

Wednesday 01st September 2021 06:48 EDT

Hundreds of Afghans living in India took to the streets to ramp up demands for refugee status, amid growing fears in the community following the Taliban’s recent takeover of Afghanistan. They rallied outside the UN refugee agency’s office in the capital New Delhi, chanting slogans and demanding justice and security, especially for Afghan children and women.

“We were victims of war, and now we are the victims of an unclear future,” read one poster. Most of the protesting Afghans said they fled to India more than 10 years ago but are still waiting to be recognized as refugees. Many get trapped within a complex bureaucratic process to register as refugees in India, and struggle to live a dignified life, they said.

India is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention of 1951 and its 1967 Protocol. As of 2019, Afghans accounted for about a third of the nearly 40,000 refugees registered in India, according to the UN refugee agency. But this figure excludes those not registered with the UN. Ahmad Zia Ghani, 48, an Afghan refugee who came to India 10 years ago, said not being recognized as a refugee has prevented access to even “basic facilities,” making his life exceedingly difficult.

Calls for formal recognition as refugees in India have intensified in recent days, as hopes for a return home held by thousands of Afghan refugees were dashed by the Taliban’s shockingly swift takeover of the country. “We’ve received nothing,” Ghani said. “Now we are requesting (refugee status) since Afghans don’t have any chance of returning to war-torn Afghanistan under this Taliban regime.”

Another protest in the capital aw dozens of Indian activists as well as Afghans gather to denounce the Taliban, as well as press for justice and asylum for Afghans fleeing the country. Many Afghans fear the Taliban will erase the gains, especially for women, achieved in the decades since the US-led invasion in 2001. When the militant group ran the country in the late 1990s, they imposed a harsh interpretation of Islamic law, forcing a sequestered life for many, particularly women and girls who were forbidden from education and employment.

The Taliban now seek to present themselves as a more moderate force, offering amnesty to those who fought them and declaring the rights of women would be honored under Islamic law. But for many protesting, the biggest fear remained the future of women and children. “They (the Taliban) are making promises that this time, they won’t do any wrong to us,” said 34-year-old Tahmina Zaki, who was protesting outside the UN office. “We don’t believe that.”

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